“It’s ok not to be ok…”
In theory this a great sentiment. It gives us something to say when we see hurting people around us and don’t really know what else to say. It rolls easily off our tongues when the “not ok” person is not inconveniencing us with their “not okness.” But what happens when you are the one who is NOT ok…is it still ok? Or do you find yourself hiding behind the façade of “fine” because admitting you’re “not ok” really equates to some sort of failure, deficiency, or weakness to most people? You see, we like cute little catch phrases like “it’s ok not to be ok.” But do we truly live like we believe it?
Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.Brene Brown
I thought 2020 was a year…until 2021 arrived.
As a pastor I will be the first one to tell you that our God never changes, our circumstances do. God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love are always readily available to us, no matter where we might find ourselves on this journey called life. This is a truth I stand by and the very truth I live by. I have known difficulty. I have known pain. I have known struggle. I have known soul crushing heartache. And through it all, God has never changed. He has never proven to be less than what He promised to be; He is my strength, my refuge, He upholds me with His righteous right hand, and His peace which surpasses all understanding is mine.
However, what happens when I awaken to the harsh truth that it is, in fact, me who is not ok?
Well…I can tell you what I did. I pushed it away and pretended like everything was “fine.” Because it is often so much easier to simply claim “fine” then to unload all the reasons you’re not ok to people who really only want the version of you that they want. The version of you that makes them feel the best…the version of you that most benefits them…the version of you they expect you to be. If we are truthful, many of us, myself included, ask people how they are in passing, but we really don’t want the real answer, the raw answer, the hard answer. All we are looking for is the “fine” that can keep us moving in the direction we want to go.
But what happens when we get stopped in our tracks?
One year ago my family had just gotten over our battle with Covid. My boys and I had pretty mild cases considering the realm of what we have seen over the last 20 months. And while my husband had a much worse case, we all faired pretty well. But did we really?!?! While my case of Covid was mild it produced in me other symptoms that many people now talk about as “long Covid” or “long haulers Covid.” In the month of having Covid and the four months following Covid I was at the ER 5 times with cardiac symptoms. I have had echocardiograms, more EKG’s and heart blood work than I can count, and a stress test. Thankfully, all is fine. The cardiologist simply ruled that my heart “likes to have a party every once in awhile.” His words, not mine. I have seen an orthopedic specialist and a neurologist. I have had 3 MRI’s. All to try to explain why it feels like I have Icy Hot running under my skin. Or why the day after I put up my Christmas decorations I felt like a 95 year old who just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. You know I’m old when he’s the most current boxer I know. Simply put, my case of Covid wasn’t bad at all; it was all the extra little treats the virus left me with that had doctors scratching their heads and me coming to terms with the fact that I would forever live wanting to jump out of my own skin. Even as I write this I see so clearly why “I am fine” was way easier to say.
As 2020 came to end I would lose my father to dementia after the Covid lockdowns made our visits with him sporadic at best during the last months of his life. I had so much hope for 2021. It would be better…it had to be better. However, before the ground could thaw in the spring after a long winter, Covid would hit so much harder than the burning coursing through my body…it would take my beloved uncle from us. We were just licking our wounds from my dad’s death when it greeted us again. Blindsiding us; taking our breath away. In the midst of this heartache our oldest son was navigating his first year away at college while we had to advocate for our younger son with autism who was not receiving a proper education due to Covid restrictions in the schools. At this time we were also petitioning the courts for guardianship as his 18th birthday loomed on the horizon. Our plates were overflowing, and not in a good way. My husband and I have been operating in what seemed like a vortex all while maintaining a demanding travel schedule for him and ministry work for me. I was barely hanging on. Then just four weeks ago it came again. Death was on our doorstep once more but this time it literally knocked the wind out of my sails. A message carrying the news that our beloved friend of over 35 years passed away. I just couldn’t fake it anymore…I was no longer “fine” and truth be told, I hadn’t been for a long time.
The hardest year of my life was the year after my daughter Francesca passed away. This past year has been the second. It has exhausted me in every way possible, with the exception of one. Physically, emotionally, and mentally I was on the brink of total burnout. However, spiritually I was in tact. Oh I needed time, a space for God to heal the gapping wounds in many areas but my faith was never shaken. I never doubted God’s goodness nor His faithfulness. But with my head barely above water, I was no longer leaning into Him either. I think in many ways I was like the disciples on the boat when the storm kicked up. I was trying to navigate the storm wreaking havoc with my life knowing full well Jesus was in my boat. I was silently screaming “will you please make this storm end!” All while pretending I had control over a sinking ship. You see, sometimes we become so good at pretending we are “fine” that we actually start believing the lie ourselves.
But here is the point of this blog. I promise its not so I could from 0 to 60 on the vulnerability scale in a hot second. It’s to point out that all around us there are people struggling. People who look fine, but are not fine. People who need to know that it truly is ok to not be ok. Taking time to catch your breath is actually not a sign of weakness but one of great wisdom. We live in a time and a society were FOMO rules our lives and we are only as good as our latest “like” or “share” count. What good are we if we are not producing, not influencing, not being who everyone expects us to be? No wonder so many are silently wounded…time bombs waiting to go off. Our value and worth is no longer linked to the light that shines within us but rather the light that is upon us. Self care falls to the waste side because we are too busy trying to be who others want us to be rather than who God created us to be. Soul care falls to the waste side because we are far more concerned with the external implications of our need to take a break or being honest and vulnerable about where we are at, rather than the internal ones.
We are a society on the verge of burnout. What makes me think that? Violent crimes are on the rise, suicide is on the rise, drug addiction is on the rise, and the list goes on and on. Because when we pretend “fine” for too long, the truth always comes out one way or another…often, in unhealthy ways.
Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t fine and the people around me knew it too. Over the last few weeks I have had time to rest and simply be in the moment. Few obligations and not much vying for my time, other than those who need me most, my husband and my children. A time to simply be. To take deep breaths and regain my footing. For so long God has spoken to me. He has so clearly told me, “you will find Me in the silence.” And here’s the thing, God’s presence has always been with me but the noise of my life was drowning Him out. I needed to go back to the place of silence to wholly see Him again.
The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.Psalm 28:7
Was I weak to admit I was no longer ok, I don’t think so. Did my admission cause me to not live up to some people’s expectations of me, quite possibly. Does sharing this make some uncomfortable, I guess it could. But here is what I have learned. Actually, I already knew this I just needed the silence to remind me of it.
First, in my own strength, I am weak. I am only strong by the One who strengthens me…Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. If my life is so busy and burdened that I can no longer hear Him…I will end up on the verge of burnout once again. Second, I was reminded of this simple, powerful, yet freeing truth…there is only ONE who’s expectations I must meet. Only One whose desires I should fulfill. Only One whose approval I seek. God and God alone. If my life is not a pleasing offering to Him, then I will get it wrong in every other area of my life. Finally, if being vulnerable enough to share this helps just one other person to know they are not alone…then I don’t really care if it makes anyone uncomfortable. God placed it in front of the one it was written for. To remind them of the truth that I know so well…He sees you…He loves you…and a breakthrough IS coming. That was a promise God made me a year ago and He has been faithful to that promise. While my heart still aches from devastating losses, my body has been healed of most of the post Covid symptoms I have had. It took time in the silence to find the joy of every single one of the blessings I have I received in the midst of the heartache. My circumstances changed…my God NEVER did!!!
So my dear friends. It really is ok not to be ok. However, it is not ok to stay there. Maybe you just needed to hear someone say that a season of rest is what you need. Self care is what you need. Soul care is what you need. God didn’t just create you to survive. He created you to thrive; to live in the fullness of His image in which you were created. Oh sweet soul reading this, put down the façade of “fine” and own where you are at so that Creator of the world and the lover of your soul can heal you from the inside out. You are worth it to Him. He loved you first and He loves you most. Find Him in the silence…He is always there.